Tim Nelson’s finger has been on the pulse of the craft beer scene on the North Shore since he co-founded Fitger’s Brewhouse back in 1995. In the 20 years that followed, he seized opportunities to bring craft beer to more people through opening other bars and restaurants. Even now, after selling his stake in those businesses in September 2015, the entrepreneur is still analyzing the craft beer scene for new opportunities.
“We’re seeing hyper-localization in the beer market, and as a result there are some under-served markets in the area,” says Nelson. This time around, though, Nelson won’t be the one opening a new brewery to serve those markets. Instead, he and veteran brewer Dave Hoops are teaming up again to offer consulting services and guidance to up-and-coming brewers in Minnesota and Wisconsin’s North Shore.
Their new consulting business, Bev-Craft, will allow entrepreneurs to tap into the experience of a team of people who know the area well and have been involved with local craft breweries since the very beginning of the boom.
When Nelson founded Fitger’s Brewhouse back in 1995 with current owner Rod Raymond, local craft beer was an entirely new concept at the time. According to Nelson, the early years at the award-winning brewpub were spent educating consumers on new flavors and styles. “Since 1995, it’s been one pint at a time,” Nelson says.
Consumers weren’t the only ones getting education though. As the local craft brewery movement expanded in the beginning, Nelson says brewers and brewery owners “were kind of learning as we went along, sharing ideas with each other. And some brewers were not exactly eager to share their ideas.” Bev-Craft wants to make their collective knowledge available for brewery start-ups with an interest in serving their local communities.
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The idea for Bev-Craft was one that Hoops and Nelson had been discussing and developing for a long time, and when Raymond offered to buy Nelson’s stake in Just Take Action (the parent company of Fitger’s Brewhouse and other sister restaurants and bars) they thought the time was right to launch the consulting firm.
The company says it will help new breweries with property development assistance, brewhouse planning, brand marketing, and sales strategy implementation. According to Nelson, brewhouse planning “can involve everything from helping secure investment and selecting a site for the brewery, to selecting the right size equipment for a particular community, or even finding the best local grains as part of helping with recipe formulations.” These services are provided along with guidance on standard operating procedures and best practices used throughout the industry.
Longtime collaborator, award-winning brewmaster, and founding member of the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild, Dave Hoops, will use his decades-long experience to head up brewhouse planning and development. Most recently, Hoops worked with one of Bev-Craft’s clients, Moose Lake Brewing Company, on recipe selection and development.
Moose Lake Brewing’s partners were introduced to Nelson and Bev-Craft through Walt Aplin of Twin Ports Nightlife. Asked why they decided to invest in Bev-Craft’s services, Moose Lake’s Paul Christensen explained, “Our concern was this: moving into an industry that has been as aggressive as the craft beer industry in Minnesota would require bringing something forward that was unique. We recognized that Bev-Craft brought a level of expertise that would be reflected not only with our operational startup, but more importantly our final product for our community.”
For brand marketing and sales strategy implementation, Bev-Craft will turn to its two other members: Brad Nelson and Paul Christensen (not to be confused with Moose Lake’s Paul Christensen), respectively. Nelson was the marketing manager for Fitger’s Brewhouse and its sister companies, Burrito Union, Redstar Lounge, Tycoon’s Alehouse & Eatery, Zenith Rathskeller, and Endion Station Public House. Christensen has years of sales and marketing experience in the food industry from owning and operating several Papa Murphy’s stores in the Twin Ports area.
The Bev-Craft team is re-vamping the Cedar Lounge Tavern on North Tower Avenue in Superior, Wisconsin. Once completed, the bar will double as Bev-Craft’s informal office. In the meantime Bev-Craft is in the final stages of helping Moose Lake Brewing Company launch its 3.5-barrel brewery and taproom. In addition to this project, Bev-Craft is working with several other breweries, which will be announced soon.
If Moose Lake’s experience is any indication, teaming with Bev-Craft looks like it will pay dividends down the line. “They brought the Moose Lake Brewing Company to a level that would have likely taken numerous years and untold dollars for us to achieve on our own,” says Moose Lake’s Paul Christensen. “A true investment for our operation.”